I hope I hurt some feelings and deflated an ego or two with the title. It is difficult to accept for many folks, but there aren’t that many CIA agents, Green Berets, SEALs, etc. in this world. Even so, when they are giving out these best gear and what to do list, they are often referencing something official in the past. Their past operations within the complexities of government travel.
The rest of us and even those guys, now in civilian status will get our collected asses nailed to the wall when attempting to pack in and pull off these shenanigans, or in ruck “tactic-cool” to a foreign land, or even a cross-country flight. The damned TSA won’t let you take a tube of toothpaste, let alone a Bat’leth. The TSA has no honor.
Anyway, welcome to part three of the mercenary series, check out parts I and II to catch up on that. Today we are going to cover a decent packing list because the lists I have seen online are just begging to get a few people locked up. For the most part, this focuses on leaving the country, so my first point to you is that you are not going to be in America anymore. You are not going to, “I need to talk to a manager,” your way out of the situations you can here. Although, you can bribe your way out of most situations, so pack cash.
A wise man, a Method Man, once said: “Cash rules everything around me.” Outside of the typical Western world, or the safe places in the suburbs, the well-lit hipster parts of downtown most people are content with plastic. The credit/debit card solution, electronic transfers. More like a trackable dependence in unreliable places, which will most likely be hacked. Bring cash and your cards, but for the sake of sweet baby Jesus in a tuxedo shirt – avoid using the card as much as possible. As I’ve stated above, you’ll need cash for bribes, and you really don’t want to give your credit card to most of the places that may accept it. That is unless you’re some super-paid corporate type, and you stay at the exclusive places with arranged drivers and security. Well, if you are I hope you get hacked and robbed. Sorry but I’m poor, so go to hell.
It is also wise to exchange money before you leave. A lot of larger cities have exchanges that are not in the airport, and the airport will rob you on fees and rates. AAA exchanges money for members in any currency, and you can always get someone else to place the order. While you’re at AAA that would be a good time to pick up an international drivers license, or at places such as IDL which will allow you to order online. This is a solid document to have if you plan on operating a private motor vehicle while abroad, if so update your insurance, USAA is good for international coverage as is AAA.
Cash is king, hide it on you and never leave it anywhere; that includes a safe or with anyone. Keep your mind on your money and your money in your sock. You should only keep a little walking around money in your wallet, and a few folded up bribe bills on you in clever places like under the face of a watch or behind the cover of your phone.
Phones are something to seriously consider; and sure, you can keep your regular phone and a tablet. In fact, call your carrier and add international service. It’s really not as expensive as you would think and you can typically change it up per country as to where you’re going, just cancel it when you’re home. This will save you money, and a means to easily communicate with your contacts, just be careful about when you have this phone turned on. If you’re not aware, and you should be -it’s 2016 but a mobile device it is too easy to track. When you go beeping about abroad with your foreign phone signal, they won’t have to look for you as you’ll just pop-up on their radar. If you aren’t hip to that, stay home – you’re a liability. That said, being tracked is also an asset at times, for your safety – just be mindful.
You’re also going to need two other phones at a minimum. Both of these phones should be paid for in cash, in person, not be an iPhone, be unlocked/jailbroken. These phones should not once, ever – have your name, your Facebook, Gmail, VK or any other account you’ve ever used once, anywhere. This phone must operate on SIM card technology and if you shop around you can often find phones with dual-SIM technology, meaning that you can run two numbers off of the phone simultaneously. Don’t get a plan. No plan, no pre-pay on contract, no names . . . at least real names.
The first phone you can buy in your closest city, at what I call the “ghetto phone shop.” I love these places, they are typically cash only, ask few questions and the service is great for an unlocked phone with no service agreement; see photo for an example of one of this fine realtors. The next phone you can pick up abroad, and depending on what country you’re traveling to you may not need to go through “Master P’s : I got Da Hook Up.” If you’re outside of the U.S., Canada and most the E.U. a phone like this can be picked up at most major chains. Next, get into your phones and unlock the developer options, disable your location, logging, and reporting. As for the SIM Cards you can get them there as well or from a street vendor, get six of them at a minimum. It’s handy to be able to swap them out or have them for a rainy day.
Next, you’ll need some apps for your phones. Note the separation from your home phone/tablet and your international burners. It’s important that you load none of the listed home phone apps onto your burners because these apps track you. You’d be surprised how much of your data is shared by the apps in your phone.
Facebook – You need this to connect to other apps, communicate and be tracked if need be.
Tinder – Awwww, yeah. Use your imagination, also a great source of locals. Honeypot or Honeydick, it’s your junk.
Google – Everything: Drive, Maps, Gmail, Earth, Translation services, Exchange Rates, and so on. Load it up.
Google Play – I used to have pandora, but it sucks, you’ll need tunes. Play lets me keep music while offline.
Feedly – Newsreader, customize to what and where you need to know.
Haystack – Video news, same principle, customizable news. I’ve seen nothing on the Presidental campaign, I love it.
BaconReader – Customizable Reddit feeds,
Airbnb – You never know when you may need a place to crash on the fly.
Uber – Yeah, it’s everywhere, don’t get screwed by a taxi driver.
What’s App – As secure as you can get on a locked device. Never use Viber, your messages go straight to Moscow.
VK – It’s the Facebook for Eastern Europe and Russia, talk to your peoples.
SkyMap – Better than a compass if you need to find the North Star on a Cloudy night.
White Board – Discretion via your screen.
PrintHand – Print via your phone/tablet onto anyone’s printer.
Sound Recorder – When you need to remember it all. – Also, pack a stand-alone voice recorder, you could loose your phone.
Scrambl3 – Mostly secure calls and text.
SnoopSnitch – Identifies what may be cellular intercepts such as International Mobile Subscriber Identity catchers
Orbot: Proxy with Tor, surf the web with this only, never use other browsers.
Blue – Mask your phone number and conceal everything else in your phone.
Get yourself a gift card or some bitcoins, and launder them to pay for these apps, you want premium services.
Pack in a few mini SD cards to support these phones and any cameras.
I use a few other apps, but I don’t know about some of them. Look around because technology is fluid, by the time you read this some of these things may be out of date. Watch what you install on your phones, and install the minimum on your burners. Never install things from strange sources, even the app store is suspect.
Your computer is a different sport, we will look at that later . . . but you’ll also need a burner.
Of course, you’ll need the appropriate electrical adapters for the countries you intend to travel to. Keep in mind, this is 2016 and you most likely will not need to lug in a power transformer. Check your electronics, device, by device to ensure that they are indeed dual voltage. Most laptop battery chargers and AC adapters are dual voltage, and can be used with a plug adapter for the country you are visiting.
In the field, you may know about electric and can rig something up, if so bring a pocket-sized Ugly’s Electrical References book to check your work, as well as the appropriate grounded tools.
If you don’t know much about electric, or if you don’t feel like rewiring the world, there are options. Via my USAA rewards points, I picked up a Katio Voyager pro, which is a multipurpose radio, charger, flashlight, weather alert, temperature, and time device. It operates via solar, hand crank, or AA battery power. I can plug in any USB or Andriod device for a charge in the field. I don’t know about iphone/Mac anything; Apple is the devil.
The physical things to pack are easy. You want to pack in-between a soldier and a vacationer and accept the fact that most of what you bring won’t be coming back with you. Airport restrictions are tricky and you can fly a lot of stuff into place, but you can’t fly it out. Along with a host of other complications, bartering, or leaving things to loose pack weight.
Only bring what you can carry. I carry a ruck, an old green ruck and there is a method to that madness. If you are carrying around any military gear it should be dated, at the minimum of ten years past when it was last used by the military. This minimizes scrutiny, saves money and still provides functionality.
Always pack a sleeping bag, I favor the BDU three layer system, also for sleeping a standard poncho and a light hammock will go the distance. And a woobie, the poncho liner. No soldier is right without his woobie.
When it comes to clothes, pack what the weather is, and is going to be like while you’re there. Limit yourself to one uniform and one pair of boots. The rest is a three sets of civilian clothes, some street shoes and lots of socks. To hell with underwear, commando or nothing!
For light I got a $ 20 Rayovac that runs on AAA batteries, is bright and is about the size of surefire, and I have a small squeeze light for red. I also carry a few electric chem-lights . . . it turns out that chem-lights batteries are a thing, they’re AAA. Shop around, I’m running a few colors via the Laser Brite 2 Tactical Lighting System. The system works as a chem-light, a small flashlight for the color, as infrared and an infrared flashlight.
Pack a knife or two, but don’t get nuts. I know there are a million articles talking about some really cool and expensive knives. Whatever, you’re likely to lose the damned thing or not be able to bring it home. There are plenty of good cheap knives.
I picked up two knives for $30 dollars, a small SOG MICRON-CP [pictured below,] that I can wear on my dog-tags, that I wear abroad because you never know. I also picked up a Smith & Wesson Border Guard 2 Rescue Knife, its has a seatbelt cutter and a point to smash glass out with. They work fine, and you know thirty dollars.
On my person, I will carry a few items, but as with the knives, I don’t fly with them, the checked bag is for all such things. A Wallet Ninja, a multitool in my wallet, yes, please, thank you. Another wallet item is by TIHK, called the Urban SlimTool, it’s a lock pick kit in your wallet. You know, for science. They also make a concealed handcuff key for wrongful detentions, you just place the on your belt loop, and if they miss it – not your problem. I’m not getting locked up abroad for you, or no one. The image is pretty cool for this.
I did go nuts on one thing, that is the SOG PowerLock EOD 2.0, because it has a fuze-well spike and crimpers. Goddamned I need that, if you work with any kind of explosives, especially abroad, you need a fuze-well spike and crimpers. That or you end up using a screwdriver for a fuze-well spike and pliers for crimpers. Not the ideal scene. If you’re like me, you’ll always want a mine probe, plastic will do but it can get bulky. SOG also makes a vanadium/titanium mine probe that breaks down. You’ll be running a gamble against magnetic land mines. Then again, when are you not while demining? Take it from a Combat Engineer who has almost died too many times in the struggle against mines and IEDs, while in the regular army and on travels – you simply never know. Yet, it is best to have a mine probe in any place where mines and buried IEDs are actively emplaced.
Also in the bag, a mess kit. The mess kit because most of the time, you should prepare your own food. Canteen cups go the distance as well, with canteens, I don’t care for camelbacks. Camelbacks are limited, difficult to clean in the field and you can’t boil water in your camelback; it’s a water only source for day hikers.
I also searched out an LCE, the old load carrying equipment, and attached a butt pack, and some pouches for my first-aid, and a lensatic compass. I tossed a D ring on it as well for good measure. All of it is from my local army surplus store.
I also pack in a hatchet, just a normal hardware store hatchet. My shovel is a standard E-Tool, from any surplus store.
A good pair of Nomex flight gloves goes the distance. I will cut the extra length off of them and hem them back up, always have a sewing kit to fix your stuff, or stitch someone up. A flask is in the same dual purpose category, for drinking scotch and sterilization.
Carry a good binder, a leather bound presentation case will get you into a lot of places if you look confident, so will credentials, you know – photoshop. A voice recorder, and you can never have too much writing and organizational materials. These days I’ll also carry a GoPro from SOFREP and this super cheap digital Cannon camera I got from Overstock. Pack-in spare batteries for these and all other electronics, don’t rely on a local source – for anything.
Do not use or bring anything velcro – velcro is not for anything high-impact or tactical.
You’ll want to pack masking tape, electrical tape, duct or 100mph tape, and super glue. We will get into why later.
A bundle of 550 or parachute cord and some bungee cords.
Always pack at least one good book.
Most of my other kit is personal hygiene, sunglasses, lots of lighters, emergency instant espresso, and cigarettes.
I do not bring magazines, plates or plate carriers, helmets, firearms, big knives, explosives or anything crazy. You can get what you need out there, be smart.
Everything you bring, you must be prepared to loose. Always keep your phones, money and identifying documentation on you. Never, under any circumstances do you give those items to anyone.
Another handy item is passport covers. A simple leather cover that slides over your passport which, of course, protects your passport, but also conceals the identity of your passport. A standard black or brown leather cover for your nation and another from a major nation that is friendly for the place you are traveling to. Adjust these covers as need be since everyone does not need to know where you’re from.
Trust yourself, and no one else.
Remember to be the Merc, because you’re not a Navy SEAL.
Stay paranoid, until next time.
Featured Image: Buck Clay, in the streets!